The Electric: Be Versatile.

One Trick Ponies & Swiss Army Knives

I saw a really good blues/rock band the other day. They were really good and looked like they were having a lot of fun doing it. I noticed how simple the guitar set up was: Fender Stratocaster into an Orange Tube amp. No effects besides a compressor and the amps gain or “dirty” channel. I was really impressed and kind of ashamed at the size of my rig, until I realized… He’s only set up to do one thing. Church bands don’t work that way.

Even if your church is solely CCM (Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, David Crowder, Mercy Me, etc) that is a wide range of sound. Playing electric guitar would be a little bit different for each of those bands.

The point I’m making is that we don’t have the luxury of being set up for one thing like the blues band. If we want to serve better we need to be set up for variety both short term and long term.

The Short Term

This is nothing more than being aware of versatility. I’ve got more than one guitar playing friend who say they can only do one thing. I know thats not true. I know they are immensely talented and gifted by God.

The issue for my friends is to mentally move past being a one trick pony and become a Swiss army knife: yes I can rock, but I also know how to fill in or learn a new chord past AC/DC power chords.

The short term answer is nothing more than a mental decision to see the world in a little bit bigger way

The Long Term

In an earlier edition of “The Electric” I talked about the 3 overdrive pedals I use. But the truth is that for a long time, I only had 1: the Fulltone Plimsoul. The Plimsoul is by far one of the most versatile pedals I’ve ever owned. It represents my desire for versatility. I want to be set up to play country, modern rock, classic rock, indie rock, pop, U2, and ambient/experimental. I want to be able to come in a create whatever sound is needed by the song and by the worship leader.

This is a long term thing. I’ve built up my rig over the years. That’s why you start short term and work long term.

Working It Out

Guitar
One of the great myths is that you have to have a Fender Telecaster to play country. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. I have a ’98 American Standard Tele as my primary guitar. But I’ve gotten country tone out of Gretsch’s, Les Paul, and Strats. What a lot of folks don’t realize about the Tele is what a great blues/jazz guitar it is. That being said, for jazz, a Rickenbacker or Jackson might not work out for you so well.

The point I’m making is that some guitars are very specific (Rickenbackers, metal/shredders, etc) in their sound. Some guitars are very versatile. When picking your guitar, look for one that can pull off a lot of sounds. For my money this would be a Telecaster, Les Paul or Stratocaster type guitar. You can get a Tele or Strat with hum-buckers or a Les Paul with tap coils so it can be single coil as well or a Tele or Strat with humbuckers installed.

Pedals

You know the needs of your band and church, but some pedals do one thing really well, some can do a lot of things. I use the TC Electronics Toneprint series for my reverb and delay and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the sounds I can get. I have 3 OD pedals for 3 different “levels” of gain/overdrive. Other great options: The DL4 delay from Line6. The GT-500 distortion/clean boost from Fulltone. King of Tone OD by Analogman (if you can get it). The point isn’t for me to have more toys, but for me to have more tools.

Amps
Most of the tube amps out there have their own sounds but will all work. Fender, Vox, Orange, Marshall, they are all used by musicians in all different genres. I’ve used Ashdown, Marshall, Fender and Vox amps. As a general rule I always go with tube amps, although I’ve seen some solid state amps that sounded just fine. currently I use a Egnater Tweaker 15 that is capable of getting Marshall, Fender, and Vox voicings while being all analog.

Digital
If you want to be versatile, then there is no easier way than going digital. I used a POD XT Live and Variax digital modeling guitar for several years, and it was VERY versatile. It also didn’t sound right. It was 70% at best. Digital can be a great short term solution. You can get a lot of sounds and options for a great price. But in the long run (with a few exceptions, mostly delay) you will get better quality and flexibility by staying analog.

The Point

As electric guitar players in a church band, we are musical servants. If we show up just doing “our thing”, we aren’t serving. learning about these different aspects of guitar playing help us Serve better. Have any thoughts? Better ideas? Disagreements? Chime in down in the comments section.

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Authors Note

The Finding Your Place series was written on my other blog. I’m reposting it here over the next few months. It was one of the main impetus for me starting this blog and I felt it’s content would be worthwhile here.

If you read it before I’m sorry, but I think it’s a helpful series and hopefully useful to those who read it.

-Cheers, Adam

Finding Your Place Pt 1

 

Preface

I started playing bass when I was 12. When I was 14 I picked up the guitar. I’ve been playing both ever since. I led worship for the first time at age 14. I learned to practice by playing in bands in high school, and worship teams in my teens and 20′s.

Not everyone who plays in a church band has that kind of background. A lot of good folks learned to play their instrument on their own and don’t know how to play and practice with a band. The following series of posts will be thoughts on how to serve God and His church well, by learning how to practice well. Here’s a few thoughts and musings on “Finding A Place” in the band for you and your instrument.

Part 1: Find Your Place in the Spirit.

“The time spent interacting with God is the foundation of any service I offer”

For the most part when you show up to a church band practice it’s either early (6am is my standard wake up on a Sunday) or you are rushing to get there after a long day at work for a mid week service. The point I’m making is that it’s not always under the most ideal circumstances. So come prepared.

The worship I offer God and the music I play comes out of the week leading up to Sunday. The time spent interacting with God is the foundation of any service I offer. If I show up having spent little or no time relationally with God then how can I lead people in His praise? If I haven’t spent time learning to be a servant than how can I serve in music and song? If I haven’t learned more about being humble before the Lord, then how can I be humble as a musician?

We all have bad days. We all have bad days that group together to form bad weeks. What I’m talking about is isn’t always living a life of “sunshine and roses” but what I’m saying (and I’m saying this from experience) is that the relationship built with God, even in the toughest days and weeks is enough to overcome my human weakness and put me a place to serve my band, the church, and most of all my God and Creator Jesus Christ.

Nothing I’m going to talk about in future posts can happen well or happen over a long period of time without first finding yourself hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:1-4) and having the Holy Spirit of God begin the transforming work in your heart and mind.

Praying Through


I’m frustrated. It’s a holy frustration. That sounds nice doesn’t it? I wonder how many things we try to spiritualize and make sound nice?

Anyway, I have vision for a few things. This isn’t a bad thing. As a worship leader we should have vision, and if we don’t we should pray about that. If we do have vision, we MUST pray about that too.

In the bible, Paul was called (Acts 9) to serve Jesus, but wasn’t sent until many years later (Acts 13), which was about a 14 year time period.

I guess what I’m trying to say (more to myself than anyone else), is that when we feel stirred up, shaken or we feel like we have a great idea for something, that’s the time to act by going to Jesus in prayer and listening.

The Electric: Less is More

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about Isolating Your Guitar Amplifier.

Less Is More.

When it comes to playing music in general, less is often more. When it comes to playing 2nd guitar in a church band. Less is almost ALWAYS more.

The reality is that this post could apply to both electric and acoustic guitar. The idea of 1st or 2nd anything comes from an orchestra, where if you have 3 violins you have the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd chairs. Usually, in a church worship band the rhythm guitar is the 1st guitar, then you could have a 2nd guitar (lead guitar) or a 2nd acoustic and lead guitar (electric).

How does “less is more” apply here? Well, if you have two acoustic guitars and an electric do you really need all three doing the same thing? Most church bands are either driven by the leader playing a piano/keyboard or a guitar. The leader will be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. Our job in that 2nd guitar roll is fill in the sound. If the 1st guitar is strumming a lot, then I’m going to strum less. If we are playing in E and he or she isn’t using a Capo, then I’m going to throw a capo on 2nd fret and play in D.

If I’m the 2nd guitar and the 1st is playing rhythm then I’ll strum whole note chords, pick a little etc, but if I’m the 3rd guy in the mix then I’ll probably play even less.

The More Effects, the Less I Play

I have 9 pedals on my board, 8 of them can affect the sound (The other is a tuning pedal). The more pedals I have switched on, the less I play. This a mistake that is pretty common for younger players and one that I made for a long time. If you play the same with effects on as you do with a “clean” signal it’s not going to sound muddy.

If my delay is on then that means my guitar will now produce more sounds then I’m actually playing, this needs to be taken into account. If my tremolo is on a slower setting and I strum at a faster tempo it will sound discordant.

Learning restraint with effects is one of the greatest skills a musician can master.

When in Doubt, Don’t Play

This is easier said than done. One of my mantras is that “the hardest thing for a musician to do is not play their instrument”. This is true for me as much as anyone. I lead 80% of the time at Calvary:Arlington, but when I don’t I often find myself playing electric. It is really hard to not play. I’ll be posting a thought on dynamics in the coming weeks which applies here, but not only that, when you don’t play, the notes you do play become that much more
powerful.

This Isn’t a Rock Concert

I hear this every so often, and in reality there are churches where it feels like worship has been turned into a performance. But often I hear this from people who, in my opinion, wrongly associate simplicity with holiness. This is a whole post unto itself but the short version is that I disagree. I want to get better at what I do. I want to be able to serve Jesus and His church better through my music. I want to encourage people to do the same. We aren’t a rock concert, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know how to rock.

Disagree? Have a different take? Lets talk, chime in with a comment.

Relevant Music

 

 

Relevant Not Attractional

Attractional isn’t a word. At least not according to my spell check.  It is, however, a real term; one that someone came up with to describe a certain type of church with a certain type of goal.

The Attractional church as you may have guessed has at its core the goal of attracting people to church. What people? All people, but especially the un-churched, usually with the stated goal to reach people in a way that is inviting to them.

Pastors wear causal yet hip clothes, and the worship band seems to be more of a rock show than a worship service.

You know the type. You’re friends may be part of such a church. You may be part of a church like that.

I like the heart behind such a church. I like the desire to reach the lost. I like the willingness to try new things. I like goal of doing things well.

What I don’t like though, is where I feel the attritional church misses the mark:

Jesus is what is attractional. Not a church service. Worship isn’t a concert for people, but a spiritual devotion from people for God. The band isn’t the center. The lights aren’t the center. The Hip Preacher in girl jeans isn’t the center. Jesus is the central focus.

I believe the Relevant church gets closer to that mark.

I know I’m playing in the world of semantics here, but I do believe there is a difference between Attractional and Relevant.

The Relvant church is just that. It lets the gospel do its own talking. It sees Jesus as the attraction. But it recognizes the times its in, the location its is in, the culture its in.

In the Booth’s day at the formation of the Salvation Army, brass bands were equivalent of rock ‘n roll. In the 70’s hippies got saved and the music of the church sounded a lot like Bread, America, and CSN. So in the same way, in our present day, folks pick up electric guitars and synths to praise God.

Technology changes. We went from the printing press to power point. None of these things are an end unto themselves but a method we use to point people and ourselves to Jesus.

I think the church that I’m a part of, Calvary:Arlington, is a relevant church. Especially in the area of worship music.

Consider the current worship set up.

Hymns & Modern. Country & Rock. Folk & Pop. Upbeat & Contemplative. Different leaders, different backgrounds, different styles.

Jesus is the center. Worship isn’t a concert, but the bands do strive to play well and to serve the people by providing live music for song worship in the church. Not only that, but by offering a variety of styles they include just about everyone in the church (metal and screamo kids… sorry 😉 )  A dear seasoned saint will hear the hymns she’s sung her whole life, while her granddaughter connects to the hymns through a driving beat. Then the next week her mom hears the pop music she’s accustom to, or her father hears the country sound he connects with. All for the purpose of freeing people to worship their God in a simple and straightforward way.

The goal is Jesus. To know Him and to make Him known. We aren’t attracting people to Him. We are people attracted by Him and we do church in the way normal people would. We sing songs in the music of our time. We fellowship over coffee and we use our minds as we study the bible together.

It’s not Attractional, it’s relevant and I love being a part of it.

The Electric: Amp Isolation

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about Isolating Your Guitar Amplifier. 

Stage Volume is one of the Most Common Technical Issues for a church Electric Guitar Player.

Electric Guitars by their nature require amplification. They are NOT acoustic instruments. The reality is however that for many churches, stage volume is a constant issue and the amps (guitar, bass, keyboard) are constant culprits. The problem for the sound guys is keeping stage volume under control and the problem for the guitar players is that amps, especially tube amps, liked to me cranked a little for the best tone.  What’s the solution?

I don’t know how many sound guy’s I’ve heard say “go digital”. So and So uses a Line6 POD, why can’t you? I owned a PODXT Live for about 4 years. They are good, they work, they just don’t sound right. There is something off in the sound. Plus, if you’ve already invested in a decent amp and a few effects pedals, why would you spend another $400 for a POD HD or $200 for a used XTLive off Craiglist? I’m not going to totally dismiss this option outright. I used a POD for several years and they are passable, and if that’s the route you want to go then more power to you. But for a lot of us we want that real amp, and for a lot of worship leaders, we want that real tube amp sound in our band. What do we do? Amp Isolaton.

How Do You Isolate Your Amplifier?

This can be accomplished a few ways.

-The church could spring for an Amp Isolation Cab. I’ve heard from guys at other churches and guitar shops that they are effective, but at the price and if you have more than one amp its hardly cost effective.

-You could use a drum shield. It works the same way as with a drum set. You can create the “fish bowl” and just mic the amp. Honestly, this is something that I hadn’t really considered until I looked into it for this post. I think it’s a very valid solution, the problem with it from where I sit is the footprint it creates on a stage, and I’ve rarely seen a church stage were space wasn’t at a premium.

-How I do it, and I fully admit this is the poor man’s method. Calvary:Arlington rents a school, and off to the side of the stage is a small office to the side of the stage so we can just run a long XLR chord for the mic out to the Amp placed in the office and crank the thing. (I do have to daisy chain 1/4 cables through a DI box).

Do I Actually Need To Worry About This?

Amp Isolation solves the problems of stage volume from the electric guitar. But what if you want that problem? What to i mean? Well, if you have an acoustic and an electric, or just a piano and bass, you need to fill in the sound that a full band would normally fill the room with. The bigger the band, the more I want to isolate my amp. But if it’s just me and a leader on acoustic, I want the amp in the room to fill the soundscape of the room.

Remember that not every problem needs to be solved, and when you solve an issue you often create another one. If stage volume is an issue it’s up to you, the worship leader, and the sound crew to figure out if it needs to be solved, and if so, which method works best for all parties involved.